East Kent Housing’s Chief Executive Deborah Upton (pictured) has stepped down from her role following a string of failures by the organisation.
The action came on the heels of revelations earlier this year that 924 Gas Safety Certificates were outstanding between April and June of this year, due to failures in the £27 Million pound P & R contract. Other issue such as fire safety, electrical safety, legionella and issues with lifts emerged from June 2019 onwards.
In an email from the four Chief Executives of Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe and Thanet councils, at 14:30 today to EKH staff, said:
“Deborah Upton has considered her position in light of the four councils consultation with tenants and leaseholders on taking housing services back in house, as well as the recent changes to the board, she has decided now is the right time to step aside.”
The relationship between the parties (the four Councils & EKH ) was dysfunctional; and trust was in short supply.
In Sept 2019, Cllr Tim Prater (Lib Dem) asked Deborah Upton why she hadn’t resigned over the Tenant Health & Safety report issued to Cllrs at the O & S Committee on the 10th Sept.
It emerged in May 2018 that there were concerns about Gas Safety, Fire Safety; and a pattern of charging by P & R that appeared to be a systemic fraud.
Now there is real possibility of a criminal case being brought due to £1.5 million pounds worth of overpayments made to P&R; overpayments which could ‘constitute fraud.’
However, a report in Oct 2018
“established the Council’s payment processes (invoices being submitted by the contractor (P & R) direct to the councils finance departments) did not reflect the process set out in the contracts (with each of the councils). This resulted in contractor (P & R) submitting invoices which are not valid under the contract”; and being paid
The P & R contract managed by East Kent Housing and procured by the four Councils of Canterbury Dover, Folkestone & Hythe and Thanet, paid P & R, £5,788,861 between April 2017 and July 3rd 2019. It is known P & R overcharged all four Councils to the tune of £1.5 million.
530k – This sum has been acknowledged and accepted by P&R and is being set off against contract payments.
353k – EKH have advised that this sum was being treated as a payment on account/payment in advance and that P&R would inspect all properties at the next service visit, evidence work carried out and provide the certification required under the contracts. However the early termination of the contract meant that this was insufficient time to complete this work and this amount is now viewed as an overpayment, although it is disputed by P&R.
596k – EKH advised that this sum related to services, such as co-located administrators and resident liaison officers, where evidence of the service had not been provided. P&R strongly disputes this sum and have argued that these services were provided, albeit from a different location.
None of the three sums had been collected by the Councils prior to the termination of the contract in July 2019. Each Councils amount of the initial £530K is broken down as follows:
Canterbury City Council were overcharged £128,457, this is equivalent to 8% of what they paid P & R in total.
Dover District Council were overcharged £184,974, this is equivalent to 10.6% of what they paid P & R in total.
Folkestone & Hythe District Council are refusing to disclose how much they got taken for, but it is approx £111,569. This is equivalent to 9.5% of what they paid P & R in total.
Thanet District Council were overcharged £105,000, this is equivalent to 8.7% of what they paid P & R in total.
The four councils suspect “a pattern of charging that appears to be a systemic fraud”. We personally suspect fraud, as there is a plausible suspicion of wrongdoing with an evidential basis for it.
Let’s not forget the M & R contract, procured by the Councils and managed by EKH who overcharged Folkestone & Hythe District Council the sum of £184,984
The total amount of overcharging that happened on Deborah’s watch was £1,663,984.
Mr Mark Anderson the former EKH Director of Property Services was moved on in June 2019, due to his failure to manage the P & R contract.
Mrs Upton has form for overcharging and fraud happening on her watch. At Circle Housing, overcharging of £170,000 happened. At Medway half a million pounds was overspent on its first year’s repairs, but only half the work was done. Add that all together and there is sufficient evidence to say that £2,333,984 of overcharging has happened on her watch at Medway Council, Circle Housing and East Kent Housing.
EKH were not doing pre & post inspection on 22 out of the 30 contracts they managed on her watch. For all the faults that emerged in EKH, Deborah Jospehine Upton gave no leadership , failed in her governance responsibilities and put tenants lives at significant risk for a substantial time, for this she has been dismissed thankfully.
A year since overcharging was discovered; and the Councils have not recovered a penny of the £1.5 million overcharging to date.
Eighteen months since we began our investigation into East Kent Housing and finally the Chief Executive has gone. We thank all our sources for their amazing bravery and assistance.
The Shepwayvox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent